HIV/AIDS information among Secondary School adolescents and its effects on their attitudes and sexual behaviour
Namukwai, Rose Sankananji
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Since the early 1990s, the government of the Republic of Zambia, civil society and other Non Governmental organizations have embarked on anti HIV/AIDS campaign programmes aimed at informing the nation about the negative consequences of HIV/AIDS. Undoubtedly, the HIV/AIDS pandemic has affected all sectors of the Zambian society, although the vulnerability of women and young people especially girls requires that they be given special attention in as far as prevention programmes are concerned. So far, fairly enough information on how AIDS is transmitted from one person to another and how it can be prevented has been given out. The DHS of 2002 indicates that the knowledge of HIV/AIDS in Zambia is almost universal and is nearly 100%. However, this information seems to be insufficient to change the risky behaviours of many people especially the adolescents, who are at a stage in life where they are more prone to taking risks by engaging in various experimental behaviours.This study was therefore mainly • designed to establish what HIV/AIDS and STD information adolescents in secondary schools are exposed to and the effects of this information on their attitudes and sexual practices. The specific objectives of the study were thus:-To identify the major sources of HIV/AIDS and STDs information for boys and girls in secondary schools. - To find out the gender equity in accessing HIV/AIDS information between boys and girls in secondary schools. - To find out if boys and girls in secondary schools are using this information to adopt better attitudes and sexual practices.The main and specific objectives of the study were achieved by obtaining key indicators on HIV/AIDS related information and knowledge, attitudes and sexual behaviours of young people in secondary schools.Findings Summary Respondents' Background and Living Arrangements.The study reveals that the majority of the adolescents in secondary schools are kept by their own parents while the others are looked after by their guardians who ranged from uncles, aunts, grand or single parents. Only a very minimal percentage of respondents reported that they are looking after themselves.Regarding the level of parents or guardians education, a large majority of respondentswere looked after by parents and guardians with college education followed by those whose keepers had gone up to senior secondary level. More parents and keepers are likely to talk to the female respondents about sex than to the male respondents. Generally,there didn't seem to be a co-relation between parents' level of education and parents' or keepers' attitudes towards respondents as most of them reported that parents/keepers are generally strict on them regardless of the level of education.Knowledge of HIV/AIDS and STDs The awareness about HIV/AIDS was almost universal with almost 100% of the respondents having fundamental knowledge on how AIDS is transmitted from one person to another and how they can protect themselves from infection. On STDs, male respondents had comparatively better knowledge on the names and symptoms of various STDs. Despite this however, many of them did not seem to recognize the relationship between STDs and HIV/AIDS with a majority showing less fear of STDs which they see as curable unlike HIV/AIDS. Other than ignorance on STDs, respondents reported a number of misconceptions and near myth beliefs about HIV/AIDS and sexual practices such as condom use among secondary school adolescents. About 60% of the male respondents believed that the use of condoms reduces sexual pleasure while 31% stated that prolonged use of condoms has side effects. This partly explains why regardless of the HIV/AIDS knowledge and information, most of them are still willing to take undue risks at any given opportunity. The researcher also discovered from the survey especially during the FGD that most of these misconceptions about AIDS and sex which have a negative impact on the knowledge possessed by young people are rooted in cultural and traditional beliefs which widen the gender gaps between these young people.Sources of HIV/AIDS and STDs Information.Findings from this research reveal that media like television and newspaper have played a major role in disseminating HIV/AIDS information with over 60% of the respondents getting their information from T.V. Teachers, and radios were also cited as the other major sources of information for the respondents. Interpersonal communication about AIDS and STDs was also highly common among respondents especially the male respondents, an indication that some of the information that the adolescents are sharing may be unreliable. In terms of access, findings from this research indicate that both maleand female respondents have equal access to HIV/AIDS in general except in isolated incidences such as access to information about STDs and condom usage. Most respondents did not see their parents as a reliable source of HIV/AIDS information mostly because they saw their parents as too strict and authoritative and also the traditional belief that makes the discussion with parents of any issues related to sex a taboo in almost all the Zambian societies. Although a good number of respondents found the information they obtained from various sources helpful, the number of those who found it either boring, confusing or embarrassing was big enough to warrant concern.From the FGD many respondents alluded to the fact that the information they are getting from sources simply goes as far giving them facts about sex and HIV/AIDS without necessarily giving them skills needed to positively motivate them to change their behaviour.Attitudes and Sexual Behaviours of Secondary School Adolescents.Findings from this research indicate that despite the HIV/AIDS information that the respondents have acquired, many of them still lack the ability to modify their behaviours,more so with the female respondents who are seen in many ways as being less empowered to make decisions about their sexual health. Indications from this research are that many secondary school adolescents especially girls become sexually active at a very tender age. About 16% of the female respondents who took part in this survey first had sex when they were merely ten years old. Reasons for having sex ranged from being forced into it to the fear of losing their boyfriends. For many male respondents, one of the main reasons for having sex was so that they may be accepted by their peers in an environment where high expectations are linked to a boy's sexual orientation and performance. This research has also shown that most adolescents in secondary schools have a low risk perception. This is mostly due to the fact that a person can get infected with the HIV virus in their teens but still look healthy for years only to develop AIDS when they are adults. Because of this, many respondents were not keen on knowing their HIV status and stated that it was not necessary because it would be a distraction to their studies.On condom use, the researcher discovered several misconceptions which have ultimately contributed to negative attitudes related to the usage of condoms among the respondents.A large majority of male respondents were of the view that the use of condoms reduces sexual pleasure and also that their prolonged use has negative side effects on one's sexual performance. Several male respondents reported that only boys have the right to buy and use condoms, an indication that the gender imbalances as far as decision making and sexual negotiations in adolescent' relationships may be rife. Fear of pregnancy was the major reason why many adolescents, especially girls preferred to use condoms during sex but not the fear of contracting HIV/AIDS or other STDs. Surprisingly, many female respondents stated that virginity is an old and outdated concept. These reasons in part, explain why regardless of the information and knowledge that adolescents in secondary schools have acquired about HIV/AIDS and other STDs, they continue to act in ways that put them at risk of getting infected.